Child-proofing, cleaning and sturdy cases for smartphones

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. How can I let my grandchildren play with my smartphone safely?

A. Modern smartphones and tablets made by Apple and Android have built-in parental controls. These controls are often activated on devices issued in schools, and they typically require some work to set up on your own.

To get started, open the Settings app on iPhone and tap Screen Time. On Android tap Settings -> Family -> Parental Controls. Each of those menus leads to a series of controls.

The controls fall into general categories, such as time limits, access to specific apps, internet access, and the ability to purchase items. This is one reason why it’s hard to generalize, each device has different options that can be tailored for different ages.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. Parental controls are a tool that can help, but they do not replace parental oversight. The controls generally limit what the user can do, although sometimes they can be bypassed by clever users.

If you use parental controls, you can make it easier to hand your phone or tablet over to someone else. It just takes some patience learning how everything works.

Q. What case would you recommend for a handheld device that a child would use?

A. Few places are more dangerous to electronics than a busy classroom. I asked the educators in my family what kind of cases they see on devices in the classroom, and the overwhelming answer was something made by Otterbox.

I have used Otterbox cases myself, especially in the early years when the idea of carrying around a thousand-dollar piece of glass seemed insane. There are different models with increasing levels of protection. The most rugged lineups such as the Defender Series look like they are ready for anything.

Your needs will depend on your child of course. Too much of a case can be a burden in everyday use. And while it may be inconvenient, one option is to switch to the Otterbox whenever you hand over the device.

Some cases are designed with handles that little hands can grip. Those are especially useful on phones and tablets.

Compared to similar cases I’ve seen, Otterbox products tend to be more expensive than other brands. However, Otterbox has a long-established reputation for quality, which is another reason I recommend them. Considering the cost of a repair or replacement, a good case is inexpensive insurance.

Q. What is the best way to clean a smartphone?

A. Above all remember two things: use as little liquid as possible and only use a clean lint-free soft cloth. Paper towel, eyeglass wipes, and sponges are a bad idea. In fact anything else, sold as a cleaner or not, is best avoided.

Unless the device is very dirty, a clean cloth is all you need. The best cloths are large enough to use many times between trips through the laundry. Mine are about a square foot, and work well on smartphone and tablets. I get mine in an auto parts store, although sometimes they appear on Amazon. ( A flat finish is preferable.

Many cloths sold as “micro-fiber” have a pronounced texture, which can work, but the best choice is cloth with very flat, tight woven threads. It will lift finger grease off the glass, and wipe fingerprints off the case with just a little pressure. Once the device is clean, switch to an unused part of the cloth for a final polish.

If the cloth alone is not enough, it’s time to try liquid. Use it very sparingly. The more you apply, the harder it is to remove. Water is a great solvent, and can work wonders with the right technique. Just dip your finger in water and gently rub it on stubborn spots.

If you prefer something designed for high-quality optical glass, I use Zeiss brand cleaning fluid. ( The main advantage of the Zeiss cleaner over water is that it is slightly easier to remove.

After 15 years of trying every cleaning method available, I always return to the basics: the right cloth and as little liquid as necessary.

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Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at

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